Bristol man admits firework insurance fraud charge after assistant was blinded
THE boss of a fireworks firm, whose assistant was blinded when a display mortar fired into his face at point blank range, has admitted breaching health and safety regulations.
Jason Edgecombe was running JWP Fireworks when Chris Hignell lit the professional mortar and it went off without a time delay, Bristol Crown Court heard.
The court was told Mr Hignell was blinded in his left eye and, thus far, has attended Frenchay Hospital and Bristol Eye Hospital on 83 occasions for reconstructive facial surgery.
Edgecombe, 29, of Northcote Road, Mangotsfield, was to face a five-day trial concerning the incident.
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But on the day of his trial he pleaded guilty to fraud in that he possessed and used a false public liability insurance certificate, and also failed to discharge his duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The Recorder of Bristol Judge Neil Ford QC handed him unconditional bail, pending a report, until sentencing aimed for the third week of August. The judge also told Edgecombe that because the offences were before January 2009, his hands were tied to a financial penalty.
After the hearing, Mr Hignell told the Evening Post: "Edgecombe has ruined my life. I used to go scuba diving, surfing and skiing, but not any more. I also had to sell my Harley Davidson bike.
"He nearly killed me but he will get away with a slap and a fine."
Alan Fuller, prosecuting, said Edgecombe fraudulently obtained insurance not only to buy professional show grade fireworks, but to be able to stage firework displays.
He said that in May, 2008, Chris Hignell and Darren Minto were assisting him to put on a firework show at a wedding reception at Chewton Place, Keynsham.
Mr Fuller said: "There had been contact between the men and the defendant and Chewton Place was a taster session for them.
"The fireworks which Mr Edgecombe used were rated as category four, only to be used by professionals.
"Publicly available fireworks have a time delay fuse, but with professional fireworks ignition is almost instantaneous. Mr Hignell had conducted small displays at this venue but he had only ever used publicly available fireworks. He had no experience of category four fireworks prior to the defendant and others setting them up."
Mr Fuller said that, without goggles, ear defenders, gloves, or a walk through, Mr Hignell lit the fuse on Edgecombe's cry of "Now!" and the firework shot straight into his face.
Mr Fuller said: "He went to the floor. He was in immense pain, he was bleeding and his hair was on fire. The defendant was aware of the situation and the firework display continued.
"An ambulance was called by Mr Minto and Mr Hignell was taken to Frenchay Hospital, where he remained for 13 days with very, very serious injuries and made a difficult recovery, having lost the sight in one eye."
After the hearing Mr Hignell, 51, of Hatherley, Yate, recalled how there was a very loud bang before he took the five-inch mortar – the size of a cannon ball – in his face.
He said: "It was indescribable pain. My hair was on fire and Darren Minto came to me but Jason Edgecombe carried on with the display. I had blood pouring from my face."
Mr Hignell said guests at the wedding reception – filled with medics as the bride was a paramedic – were not aware of his injury and, when asked for water, someone brought out a glass.
He said: "It was torture. I thought I might die in the ambulance. It sounds silly but I thought of my wife and my dogs."
Mr Hignell is full of praise for the surgeons who battled to save him and then embarked on restoring his face to look near normal.
He still recalls how, the first time he looked in a mirror, he screamed and started to cry – the salty tears making his pain worse.
After the accident, arrangements were made for mirrors to be covered in hospital and at his home.
Edgecombe's brother Luke was jailed for using a firework to blow up a telephone box in Cadbury Heath in December, 2007.